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The first component of complement (C1) inhibitor plays a critical role in the regulation of the classical complement pathway and the contact system, and the deficiency of C1 inhibitor protein or function is associated with recurrent angioedema. In this study we evaluated the size of the C1 inhibitor antigens present in the plasmas of C1 inhibitor-deficient patients. We found that the C1 inhibitor in the plasmas existed in three forms: high molecular weight forms in complex with proteases, native 110-kD C1 inhibitor, and a modified inactive 94-kD form. The proportion of the total C1 inhibitor in the 94-kD form was 28% in nine hereditary angioedema patients, 92% in five acquired C1 inhibitor-deficiency patients, and 1.2% in five normal controls. In vitro activation of normal plasma with kaolin, but not heat-aggregated gamma-globulin generated 94-kD C1 inhibitor from 110-kD C1 inhibitor. Neither kaolin activation nor heat-aggregated gamma-globulin activation generated 94-kD C1 inhibitor in Hageman factor-deficient plasma. These results suggest that 94-kD C1 inhibitor is generated in vitro by activation of the contact system. The in vivo mechanism of 94-kD C1 inhibitor generation in C1 inhibitor-deficient patients is not known.